Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Ever gone away for a weekend without actually leaving town?

I have.

My church meets in Ponsonby, but our annual church retreat this weekend was at Willow Park here in Howick – near where I live.

Certainly this was a fiscal advantage, however it demanded a much higher pricetag from my self-respect.

Yes, there was no way I could escape helping out.

Worse, a while ago I’d promised fellow church member, and professional comedian, Jamie that I would at some point take the plunge and try my hand at stand-up comedy.

Saturday night was entertainment night, and Jamie, being as I said a pro, was hosting the evening Letterman-style, complete with desk, loud band and WILL IT FLOAT? segment. No escape now.

Jamie also told me that as well as himself, there would be 2 other stand-up comedy acts that night, that we'd each have 3-5 minutes, and that I would be on last.

So, due entirely to spending this week turning over in my mind what UK buddie Herschel had said in an email about my always missing deadlines, I put off actually coming up with an act until about four hours beforehand.

Curse you, klown. Curse you and all your scary, face-painted, trained professional harlequin friennnnnwaaaaaaaaitaminute. Herschel writes stand-up comedy every day on his blog. He wouldn’t mind me using, well, borrowing, well, adapting, well, scanning through for some inspiration, well, stealing his best material for my own benefit, would he?

Noooooo, of course he wouldn’t. Herschel was my buddy, my friend, my trusted mentor in all things comedic, but, best of all, Herschel was 10,000 miles away and wouldn’t know.

So with mere hours remaining, I scrolled through his exhaustive blog and wrote down the following words:


But one act in particular caught my eye here.

So with everyone else out of the flat, I rehearsed three times an act that would begin with his computer security bit, continued into my own bit about computers stopping people speaking to each other, back into his bit about co-workers who don't know your name, segued into how computers have thankfully removed the need for the alphabet, linked that into sleeping bags that have the KEEP AWAY FROM FIRE label, took that into my own bit about people who take everything camping with them, including an iron, which would finally lead into the whole “Why do we flatten clothes?” routine.

After my last rehearsal, I looked at the clock. It was ten minutes long. I decided I'd cut the more negative-sounding stuff.

When I arrived at the hall, with flatmate Dave in tow (eager for a night of free entertainment) Jamie told me that each of the three comedy acts would now have to perform for just the one minute.

One minute.

One whooooooole minute.

Major rewrite suddenly needed.

"Ovaltine. Why do they call it Ovaltine? The cup is round, the jar is round, they should call it Roundtine. You know what I'm talkin' about. Goodnight!"

I sat down with David, ran through my act with him, and it quickly became clear that such a short act's natural ending would be after the opening computer security bit. Still, it was good to have the other material in reserve.

When it came to the performance, the other two ‘acts’ were literally just a Q&A joke, and a knock-knock.

So, my turn.

Oh dear, I always think the worst thing about fear is that moment when I remember that I shouldn't let it beat me.

Jamie introduced me, during which I mouthed everything he was saying like a dubbed movie, and it has to be said, this unrehearsed joke completely bombed. Even when I explained what I was doing, still no-one was polite enough to even cough. So I went into what I'd rehearsed.
"My name's Steve Goble, those of you who know me know that in 2003 I lost my office job in the UK, so I moved here and after a few adventures and a lot of prayer, God got me... if I can get it out... “ (yes, curse that pocket flap on my trousers again) “…this Work Permit!"

They cheered, I gestured Heavenwards, and put it away again.

"Some of you guys prayed for that, so thank you, as I now have a job in another office."

I had intended delivering this line as a joke, however as I approached it, I realised that I hadn't (erroneously) emphasised how much I had hated working in an office in the first place, so to travel all the way around the world just to get a job in another office didn't carry any irony anymore, so I just hurried along. In fact I hurried so much that I forgot to ask them "Who here works in an office?"

So much for making it relevant.

"The great thing about working in an office, is no matter how mundane your job, you always FEEL important." At this they laughed, which slightly irritated me because this line wasn't meant to be funny.

"...because of the amount of SECURITY involved." I have no recollection if they laughed here, the way things were going, I really wouldn't have blamed them all for dying of spiritual inertia at this point. The rest of their reaction is a bit of a blank, as I was concentrating so much on stopping the mike shaking too much in my hand.

"You show a security pass at the gate to get in in the morning. They give you one of those little electronic key-fobs to open all the doors inside. Even when you sit at your computer, even your computer doesn't trust you and asks you for a password. But even that's not enough, because what does your computer ask you for every 30 days? What does it ask for?"

I held out the mike to the audience. Everyone seemed to say something, but I couldn't make any of it out, so I decided to feign their obedience.

"That's right - a NEW password." And here I got into my stride.

"Coming up with a new password every 30 days is the hardest part of my job. You know you're safe for the first few months, you put in your name, your girlfriend's name, your pet's name, but after that it gets difficult. You get creative and put in six asterisks in a row. One morning you get in and you're in a really bad mood, and you're in a real hurry so you put in 123456. Then the next month you're going ‘PASSWORD! No that's too obvious. COMPUTER! No that's too obvious as well. Errrrr – (looking around) BOOK! CHAIR! DESK! COFFEE-MACHINE!’ No, you're not coming up with a password there - you're having a game of eye-spy.

“And then suddenly it hits you! You're done it, you've broken the system, you've out-psyched the computer... you just put in your last password AGAIN... but with a 1 after it!"

I tapped my forehead intelligently and pointed at the audience.

"Pretty clever huh? No criminal's gonna think of that! Pity the poor villain who's there in his mask and his swag bag and his stripey jumper, he's up all night using Photoshop on his own computer to fake a pass to get in at the gate, he's spent all his money on the black-market to get one of those electronic key fob devices that can go through every single 4-digit number in a couple of seconds to get through the doors like in the movies, then he's sitting at your desk and he's put in your name, he's put in your girlfriend's name, he's put in your pet's name, he's put in a line of asterisks and 123456, he's put in BOOK, CHAIR, DESK, TABLE, COFFEE-MACHINE, and then SUDDENLY IT HITS HIM! He puts in your last password again with a 1 after it...

…and it doesn't work. Do you know why?"

They were all dead silent. You actually could have heard a pin drop. This time this was good.

"Because by now another month has passed, and you've changed that 1... to a 2!"

There was a good laugh, so I Wolfied the air with my fist and shouted "My name's Steve Goble - goodnight!"

Really – it was like being back in a school play again. Except that it was the third time this weekend that I've had no microphone stand.


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